Recent revelations concerning traumatic brain injury – particularly in the context of full impact sports – has led to a growing controversy around the youngest group of American football players. In light of all of this research, is it time to declare that football is inherently dangerous?

In a theater in Berkeley, CA, the Berkeley Rep presented “X’s and O’s (A Football Love Story)”, an unflinching docudrama that depicts the capital-c “Concussion” as a part of the fiber of the sport of football – as essential as the pass or tackle. Meanwhile, in the Midwest, the family of Joseph Chernach – a former youth football star who took his own life in his early 20s – gathers evidence for its $5 million suit against Pop Warner, which alleges that their son’s depression and suicide were caused directly by football-induced chronic traumatic encephalopathy (or CTE), a degenerative brain disease often found during autopsies of deceased NFL players.

Who is responsible for this situation? Leagues? Parents? Coaches? If we can accept that football is inherently dangerous, not only the leagues – the organizing institutions – but parents also could be held responsible for the medical conditions of younger athletes. As brain trauma research advances, will parents who allow their children to play full-contact football before the age of 18 be considered legally responsible for endangering their children?

Additionally, if we as a culture accept that traumatic brain injury is an unavoidable consequence of full-contact sports, such a realization could kill the sport of football by choking the pipeline of young talent into collegiate and professional play. Alternately, it could lead to gladiator-ification – making pro football exactly the sort of bloodsport that the NFL is trying to move away from, a sport one more akin to MMA in its perceived level of brutality.

The league is no longer capable of responsibly regulating itself. In late February 2015 the NFL announced it would halt its use of helmet censors to gather head collision metrics. It is considered, if not a crushing blow – a serious setback to the research of concussions in professional sports.

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Photo above: © Findog822 | Dreamstime.com – Buffalo Offensive Lineman Matt Bacoulis Gets Hurt in a game against Temple.

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